Sheena Solomon, Executive Director, Gifford Foundation
Sheena joined the Gifford Foundation team in 2007 and was named Executive Director in January 2019. Her prior work at the Foundation focused on expanding its community impact initiatives and working with the grants management team. She has been instrumental in designing and planning Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders, a leadership development training that focuses on increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of nonprofit boards, and in the creation of Gifford’s city-wide initiative, the “What If…” Mini-Grants. Mini-Grants are a resource for fostering growth in neighborhoods and strengthening the capacity of residents who are focused on making positive changes in their communities. As Executive Director of the Gifford Foundation, Sheena remains fully committed and engaged in racial justice, equity, and inclusion work.
Sheena is a 2012 graduate of the PLACES (Professionals Learning About Community Equity and Smart Growth) program, a yearlong professional development program designed to explore critical issues that affect grantmaking decisions that are responsive to the needs and assets of low-income neighborhoods and people of color. She now serves as Chair of the program’s Advisory Board. Sheena also serves on local and national boards, including You Can’t Fail Inc., the Syracuse Economic Development Corporation, Urban Minority Economic Association, Near Westside Initiative, Funders Network, Empire State Development (REDC) Council, and M&T Directors Advisory Council.
Before joining the Gifford Foundation, Sheena worked at local non-profit organizations, where she developed an understanding and joy for working with people in the community. Sheena is passionate about fostering growth in others. She understands the need to have patience and understanding in addressing the needs of the community. She truly believes the “teaching people how to fish” concept and celebrating diversity is the best way to build and sustain strong, vibrant, and inclusive communities. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family and treasuring every moment because tomorrow is promised to no one. She looks forward to continuing her journey of being a confident, competent, courageous, and calm leader.
Rasheada Caldwell, Syracuse Common Councilor at Large and Director, Youth and Community Partnerships, Allyn Foundation
Rasheada has served as a Syracuse Common Council since January 2022. She is Chair of the Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs Committee and a member of the Education and Human Development, Neighborhood Preservation and Public Safety committees.
In her role with the Allyn Foundation, Rasheada meets with youth, families, government leaders, and youth-serving organizations to develop a coordinated community plan for youth development. She conducts environmental scans of current programs and services for youth in the community and identified opportunities for shared services and better coordination across agencies.
Rasheada brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to both her roles. She previously served as Manager of PEACE’s Eastside Family Resource Center, Residential Manager for the Salvation Army Women’s Shelter, and Home Visitor for PEACE. Rasheada founded Let Me Be Great #44, named in honor of her son Rasheed Baker, which provides a variety of empowering programs for youth.
Rasheada also serves on the Board of Directors for Home HeadQuarters and the Greater Syracuse Land Bank and is a coach for the Girls’ High School Basketball team at the Syracuse Academy of Science. She has received many leadership awards, including the 2019 NYSCAA Leadership Award Advocate for Families and Communities and the 2019 Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership. Rasheada is a graduate of Empire State College.
Lateef Johnson-Kinsey, Pastor, The Well of Hope Church and Director, Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence
Lateef was appointed as the first-ever Director of the Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence in April 2022. In this role, he focuses on synchronizing anti-gun violence efforts by working alongside residents, community stakeholders, consultants, law enforcement, and violence prevention experts to identify factors that perpetuate gun violence in Syracuse and implement strategic solutions. This includes managing the Syracuse Safer Streets program recently approved by the Syracuse Common Council to provide gang members with mentoring, job training, conflict resolution, and therapy. Lateef is deeply committed to bettering the community and ensuring the best possible quality of life for everyone. In his words, “Violence does not stop because of a person. It takes people – a community working together, organizations working together, and neighborhoods working together.”
Lateef has worked as a pastor and school administrator and has 15 years of experience in violence intervention, corrections, and youth counseling and engagement. He is Senior Pastor of The Well of Hope Church, where he also acts as the Executive Director of Transforming Lives and Community, Inc. In his faith and community engagement roles, Lateef has participated in Syracuse Cure Violence (SNUG), the Multi-Disciplinary Intervention Team, which works with community members serving probation or on parole, and Syracuse Save Our Youth (SOY). He also served as the Dean of Students at Syracuse Academy of Science, Youth Educator and Program Coordinator at Vera House, Behavioral Specialist with Catholic Charities, Program Director of the Building Men Program at Frazer Middle School, and a Correctional Officer and member of the Special Needs Unit to De-escalate violence with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Lateef currently serves as an Executive Board Member of Southwest Community Connections.
Damian Pratt, Director of Juvenile Justice and Detention Services for the Onondaga County Department of Children & Family Services
Damian has been committed to working with young people involved in the youth justice system since 2006. After serving in a variety of roles, including case manager for a community service program and the Director of the Onondaga County Youth Court, Damian was hired as an Onondaga County Probation Officer in 2010. In 2016, Damian became the Director of Juvenile Justice & Detention Services for the Onondaga County Department of Children & Family Services and has been in the role for the last seven years. His responsibilities include operating the Hillbrook Detention Center, supporting the youth probation unit of the Onondaga County Probation Department, facilitating the local Partnership for Youth Justice Stakeholder Committee, and collaborating with community-based partnerships via the Onondaga County Community Engagement Initiative (Word 2 YOU Collaborative).
Azariah “A-Z” Yemma, Owner and President of Yemma Estates, LLC
Azariah is a visionary community advocate and inspirational entrepreneur who is deeply committed to creating positive social impact and change. As the former Program Director for the Good Life Youth Foundation and one of its original members, he spent nine transformative years empowering young lives in Syracuse. As the co-founder of Apex Training, Azariah guided student-athletes to success, sending numerous kids to Division 1 college sports and even the NFL. He also co-owned Upper Echelon Ent, revolutionizing entertainment in Syracuse and its surroundings. Today, as the owner and President of Yemma Estates LLC, Azariah leads a new-era property management company that focuses on community upliftment and development. With an upcoming entertainment company set to redefine the industry, Azariah’s visionary mission remains rooted in empowering local talent and enriching the community through music management, concerts, and nightlife.
Reflecting on his journey from overcoming criminal charges and near-death experiences to attaining executive positions across industries, Azariah’s passion for social impact and resilience is evident. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, within the Parkside Commons Apartments on the East Side, he continues to be a driving force for positive transformation, inspiring and supporting others to thrive in the inner city.